(Header photo courtesy of Natalie Gaber)

I’m groggy, lying in my bed Sunday morning. I have to check out of my hotel in half an hour but I don’t want to start a new day. How could Saturday night have flown by so quickly? Images keep flooding my mind, little snippets of conversations to replay, impressions to sort and kind words to tuck away in my heart… elements of a gift. And Ben… so much Ben in the air!

If I could just turn back the clock and experience the night of January 12 all over again.

Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken.

Admittedly, I almost get off on the wrong foot. I take a few wrong turns trying to get to the venue and I’m about 15 minutes late; it is a relief to finally see the shining logo of the Music Box Supper Club beckoning me in the dusk. I whisper, “Okay Ben, here we go,” as I give a little tug on my memorial pendant.

From the minute I pull into the valet lot my mind is going over the to-do list: scope out the concert hall, find the production team, preview the slideshow, time cues, guest list adjustments… Heading up the stairs and ah, there’s Joe! Yay, Neil and Diane are here! Hugs all around. Wait, where is David Spero? On his way? Got it.

from matt fuller
Joe, Donna, Lars, and Matt. Photo courtesy of Matt Fuller.

The guys from Moving In Stereo are here, too! I make sure to give Matt Fuller, the bassist and co-vocalist for the band, an extra-tight hug. I am so grateful for all he did to connect us with Colleen, the owner of the venue, and to secure the gig for tonight. He’s been on board since the first hint of the event and was invaluable in my planning. I am introduced to drummer Bryan Beyer and keyboardist Joshua Hartman who are both filling in tonight. Noah Patera is unable to be here on his drums, but it turns out that Lars Altvater’s prior commitment has been cancelled. Rather than pull Josh off the keys, though, Lars chooses to spend the evening taking photographs and mingling. Like the other members of the band, Lars is the definition of class and professionalism. Rhythm guitarist and co-vocalist Danny Ayala and lead guitarist Bob Heazlit greet us with huge smiles and hearty hugs, too. I am so happy to see these talented men again!

Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken.

Leaving the band to finish their dinners, Joe and I go check out the concert hall. The space is terrific: a nice-sized stage with plenty of room for the video to be shown on both the left and right of it. Tables fan out into the large seating area, and a well-equipped bar is conveniently off to the right. The servers are bustling around getting ready for their night as we preview the video setup — it’s excellent!

Ah, here’s David Spero. Okay, up on the stage, figuring out logistics. I see people are starting to trickle in. Do I know them? Are they from the Fanorama? But I don’t want to be awkward and stare, and oh yes, I need to grab drinks for Joe and David, find a portable mike for the Q&A session, and figure out where the Mac’s Backs Books rep is going to set up — oh hey, she’s here and has it all under control. I should have known. Suzanne from Mac’s Backs Books has these events down to a science and is a joy to work with. Perfect!

Before I know it the place is filling up. I’m so giddy to greet my beloved friends and to make connections with others I’ve only known in text. Lots of hugs and happiness everywhere; the place is crackling with energy. And it’s already time to pull Joe from the foyer where he’s been signing books and get him to his position on the stage. But first… the green room. We need to refocus. I give Joe a minute of quiet to breathe, to settle down and plant his feet. We both need it, actually.

Photo by Michael Kenny.

Now I cue the production guys, the house lights go down, and David Spero welcomes the guests. The video plays off perfectly and Ben’s presence fills the room. We see him grow from infant to teen to rock star, moving through the success and difficulty in his life, his unmistakable charisma intact. I can’t help but seek out the faces of those who knew Ben best to catch their reactions; my heart swells as I see their approval and happiness. I feel like creating this tribute with photos and music is one of the gifts I offer for the event and I am thankful it seems well received.

David Spero and Joe. Photo courtesy of Becky Broderick.

People continue to arrive as David introduces Joe and the two begin their talk like old buddies. All eyes are on them. The first of two of ‘the most beautiful moments of the night’ happens when David asks Ben’s former bandmates to stand and be recognized. A handful of men rise from around the room, and the crowd answers with hearty applause. Joe makes sure to mention Chris Kamburoff (Mixed Emotions) by name, who couldn’t be here because of health issues, and encourages Chris’s son, Ashton, to stand in his father’s place. More applause… and tears, too. Precious.

We take a few questions from the audience but the time has evaporated and I give David Spero the ‘five minutes’ signal. He wraps it up like a pro, and it’s time for me to escort Joe back out to the foyer. As we wind our way through the crowd people are shaking Joe’s hand, clapping him on the back, congratulating him. His smile is huge. Moving In Stereo is taking command of the stage and the slideshow is playing again for those who missed it as we make our way out to the table, where a line of people are already waiting for a signature.

from linda beyer
Moving In Stereo takes the stage. Photo courtesy of Linda Strong Beyer

I wish I could be in two places at once, both sitting beside Joe hearing all of the amazing Benjamin stories people are sharing with him as he signs their books and poses for pictures, and simultaneously rocking out near the stage to the pulsing sounds of the greatest Cars tribute band ever. Instead I go back and forth between Joe in the foyer and the guests in the concert hall, trying to greet everyone without being a creeper… I just want to hug each one and tell them how grateful I am that they came and that they have made my night so special just by showing up.

Throughout the evening I witness so many ways that this show has brought people together. I overhear happy exclamations of, “Hey man! It’s so great to see you again!”, observe pockets of social media friends meeting and hugging, am asked to take group photos of tablemates. Two Cleveland radio legends carve out time for a chat and an interview together. Fans stop me to ask about my Benjamin Orr t-shirt, and I am able to lead them right to the artist in the audience. The grandson of one of Ben’s early friends is a fledgling guitar player, and after the show I take him to meet the members of Moving In Stereo, where they talk about Les Pauls and check out the view from the stage. And I have the privilege of meeting people who read my blog or listen to the podcast and hear their words of encouragement. It is all so dear to me!

with joe kurilec
Me with Joe Kurilec of the Mixed Emotions. Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken.

I am also fortunate to encounter people who are important bricks in the tower of Cleveland rock history: Harry Harwat, Dante Rossi, Wayne Weston, Joe Kurilec, John Gardina, David Spero… ordinary looking people that you might pass on the street, but who played such foundational roles in Benjamin’s success, and I know that this night is also for them; it is about their legacy, too. I’m honored to have them sign my copy of the book.

And the band… THE BAND! I catch snippets of songs as I’m moving about, enjoying my favorites like “Let’s Go,” “Gimme Some Slack,” and “It’s All I Can Do.”  From time to time I stop at the table where my dear friends Kurt, Nat, and Dave are, and we look at each other and gush, “these guys ROCK!” but I don’t really get a chance to focus on the show until a bit later when Joe has a break in the autograph action and he’s able to come join the party. We rock out to “Good Times Roll” and “Just What I Needed” and people are dancing and singing along and the room is packed… it’s so awesome! Even with two stand-ins the music is so tight and true and my adrenaline soars even higher.

John Gardina plays “Drive.” Photo courtesy of Becky Broderick.

Toward the end of the band’s hour-and-a-half set, the second of ‘the two most beautiful moments of the night’ takes place. One of Ben’s former bandmates, Mixed Emotions bassist John “Johnny Joe” Gardina, has come to the event. It takes some persuading, but he is finally convinced to join Moving In Stereo onstage for an encore performance of “Drive.” It’s so touching to see the smile on the face of this talented and humble man as he picks out the bassline to one of the most memorable songs Benjamin Orr ever sang. The way he stands toward the back like Ben used to, and how he adds his own flair to the melody, and shyly accepts the cheers of the crowd… All these little things reflect how much Johnny Joe loves and honors Ben.  It is both tender and badass at once, and a highly fitting way to end the night.

Now maybe you already know this about me: I’m not a professional publicist. I am a homeschooling mom with four kids and I’m a bit of an organizational freak, so while I know how to boss people around and get things done, I’ve never put together a shindig this big. Joe took quite a gamble, placing the responsibility of this event in my hands. And I know this night is not about me, not in the slightest. But I gotta tell you, as I look around at about 300 people partying over Ben and the book, I feel pretty proud of myself. No catastrophes, no resorting to Plan Bs, no disappointments, and Joe is rosy-cheeked with happiness. A definite success.

with deanna adams edit
Me with author Deanna Adams. Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken.

The cherry on top? One of my writing heroes, accomplished Cleveland author Deanna Adams, is in attendance, and when I meet her she praises me loudly for all the work I’ve done promoting Let’s Go!, and she announces that she wants me to be the public relations coordinator for her next book. I won’t hold her to that second part of it, but I take it as a very sweet and meaningful compliment, and I feel it deeply.

The lights come up but the connections continue. More introductions are made, hellos and goodbyes, group photos. My voice is a bit hoarse, but I can’t stop smiling. It’s all been so lovely! As Joe and I prepared for this night, I kept telling him, “Don’t be nervous. These people just want to party with you. You’ve already given them your gift.” And now I realize, as I run my fingers over my Benjamin Orr memorial pendant (as I’ve done so often this evening), that this party itself was full of gifts, too, that every attendee generously gave to us.

21 thoughts on “The Gifts of “Let’s Go”

  1. This article captures the night so well! It was a whirlwind and happened so fast, yet time also seemed to stand still! So much work and planning, and it all went off without a hitch… I couldn’t have asked for a better event. A night to honor Benjamin in his hometown that I will never forget as long as I live. Thanks to Donna and everyone who made it possible! #LetsGo

    Liked by 3 people

  2. That was so great Donna, so glad the weekend went so well. I would have so loved to be there, but England is just a little bit far away! But hey you set the atmosphere , so it felt like I was there already!! I’m sure Ben would be truly proud of you all! Liz

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a grand night! I’m so glad my husband and I were there. I’ve thought about it a lot in the last week, and didn’t want it to end when it did. It was great meeting Joe briefly, and great to meet you and have a few minutes to chat. Pat on the back to you! Wonderful venue, great music (those guys were amazing, right on point, and as close as we can get to the real thing) So much fun, and so many happy people.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow! You captured so much emotion and such great memories with your words. What a wonderful night for all of you. Thank you so much for sharing it with all of us, you really made me feel like we were there with you from beginning to end. I’m sure Benjamin is smiling.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. What a shindig,& awesome night.This was well written Donna,& I’m so happy for you ,& Joe,& all who have contributed to Benjamin’s Memory.Its just a fantastic time,& he ,so worthy,of all accolades.Im sure his son is proud of everything you all have done to honor his dad.May you all be blessed with favor of the Lord,& have those memories blossom often.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I love how you honor his memory with exuberant love and respect.
    Is there a video of John Gardina singing “Drive”? I’d love to see/hear it! Is the book tour coming to Boston soon?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. ❤ Thanks for such a descriptive recap of this evening. It (and the evening itself) was outstanding! Loved meeting in person people, now friends, that I've only met on-line. Moving in Stereo was 1 1/2 hours?! That just flew by….felt more like 1/2 to 3/4 hours! Love the header picture, especially the joy on your face and on "Johnny Joe's" even though I don't know him. And Joe's happiness! What I like about this piece most of all, is realizing just how much work you put into making the entire event successful. Everything went so seamlessly smoothly, I had no idea of how much of that was dependent on you! Can't wait to see what you pull out of your hat for Boston.

    While I love your writing, I think you should take Deanna Adams up on her desire to be her public relations coordinator on her next book. Making time to be public relations coordinator on Joe's follow-up picture book (hint, hint), of course. ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wasn’t it such a glorious night? The whole weekend was amazing, and I’m so glad I got to meet you in person! We are chomping at the bit to get Boston nailed down, and then we get to do it all again! YAY!!!


  8. I wasn’t really sure where to post this so I hope Joe stumbles upon this as some point, seeing as I don’t have a Facebook account, I bought Let’s Go for myself as a Christmas present along with 2 other books(Kindle). Read the other two first, using Let’s Go as a reward at the end to make sure I read ALL of them(because otherwise I tend to buy books and not read them for years, I’ve got about 6 Beatles and Paul McCartney books I’ve bought over the last few years and still haven’t read). That’s about a thousand pages in a little over a week. Go me! LOL

    Anyway, I thought Let’s Go was very good and I appreciated the respect it showed to everyone involved, after all it isn’t just Ben it was being respectful of, but those around him too, because all of them are human and no human being is ever perfect. I very much liked the fact that so many people were interviewed because while I’d read some reviews on Amazon and it was definitely as good as all the good ones say it was, there were a couple less positive reviews but I don’t think they hold up. I suppose some people might find it repetitious to hear similar things from different people but to me that just supports the truth of their observations. I also really enjoyed hearing about the music scenes Ben was a part of. I really wish there was some film of The Grasshoppers on Upbeat around, that would have been awesome.

    I also didn’t get the feeling that there was really anything being hidden, which is something a few fans have mentioned, where they felt they were being left to “read between the lines”. Yes we were left to read between the lines on some things but I don’t feel like any huge secrets were being hidden, just more detail on aspects of his life that were mentioned and as the book wasn’t trying to be some sort of psychological study or something but about Ben through the eyes of the people who knew him and about him and his place in the music scenes he was part of it, that seems fine to me. He wasn’t perfect but he seems to have been, besides supremely talented, a genuinely kind-hearted, generous person.

    Yes it might have been interesting to get a few more details on some things and maybe some opinions on why some things were the way they were because naturally as fans, we want as much as we can get(those 5 much older half siblings–between 21 and 16 years older–,who I knew about before the book because I was trying to figure how much older Charles was one night and one thing led to another until there were 5, at least some of whom he may not have known about until he was an adult, speak to some strange or at least strained family dynamics–maybe having something to do with the way he always seemed to be trying to create a family or kind of adopting himself into other people’s-loved Allan Kaufman’s cute comment about Ben becoming close to his family) but it would have all been speculation anyway. However, also as fans I think we don’t really need their opinions to form our own, we’ll do that anyway(because that is what fans do LOL). In the end I didn’t feel it was about hiding anything, I felt it was about respecting how Ben tried to live his life and how he tried to respect other people’s.

    The type of thing I kind of wish there had been a bit more of was maybe just more about things he liked, what type of movies and tv, what type of art(he lost art when his apartment burned down but I don’t think we really know much about what type of art he may have liked–I think I saw early 20th century mentioned somewhere so maybe Cubism or Futurism? Dadaism? who knows but surely someone visited his apartment and saw something :), there was a little about the type of bands(Beatles, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Prog rock apparently) but it might have been nice to know a little more about the type of bands he liked, even what other types of music he liked, did he like any books? That sort of thing.

    And more pictures of course. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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